The Voorhees Breakfast Rotary Club announced its Community Service Award honorees for 2019 earlier this season, selecting recipients for its Voorhees Citizen of the Year, Businessperson of the Year, First Responder of the Year and Selfless Student of the Year. The honorees will be celebrated at an awards dinner in late January.
For Selfless Student of the Year, the club selected Eastern Regional High School senior Kelli McGroarty.
McGroarty, a three-sport athlete, is a standout in the various sports she plays at Eastern, with soccer being the one she excels at most. Over the years, McGroarty has received various awards and honors from athletic associations, as well as the organizations that cover them: She was named the 2018 Sun Newspapers Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
McGroarty was named the much more prestigious 2018-2019 Gatorade New Jersey Girls Soccer Player of the Year last summer, earning a $1,000 grant to a nonprofit of her choice. As Gatorade player of the year, McGroarty was eligible to submit an essay that earned her one of 12 $10,000 spotlight grants.
McGroarty wrote about her friendship with her late friend, Kara Lemanowicz, whom she played soccer with growing up. She died days prior to starting her freshmen year at Eastern in 2015.
Having won $11,000 in grants, McGroarty donated the money to the nonprofit Smiles From Kara, a nonprofit started by her friend’s mother that provides financial assistance to local students as they continue to play sports.
“I wrote about how close I was with her and how much it would mean to do something in her name because we still play for her,” McGroarty said of Lemanowicz in a previous interview with The Sun.
“Just to be able to help people in her name … Like we do the 5K and I’m sure that helps, but $10,000 is a pretty large sum, so to be able to use that and help even more people is a pretty cool feeling.”
For McGroarty, the memory of her friend still resonates. She wears multiple bands around her wrists and ankles in honor of Lemanowicz and touches them for good luck prior to games.
Voorhees Breakfast Rotary Club Event Chairman Mark Schott says McGroarty’s dedication to her friend’s memory and aid to others through Smiles From Kara helped make her stand out as a perfect recipient for the award.
“Rotary believes in service above self — that’s our motto,” Schott explained. “These are people that reflect that by going the extra mile for the community. She wasn’t chosen because she’s a top athlete. She was chosen because of her compassion and willingness to help other people.”
Looking back, McGroarty feels grateful she had the opportunity to donate grant money toward the nonprofit honoring her friend.
“I thought it was pretty awesome,” she noted. “After losing her and continuing to play for her every game … being able to do something in her name [like that] was a feeling that I can’t describe.”
Having received various awards in recent years as an individual and as a teammate, McGroarty said it’s always an honor to be recognized for something outside of sports.
“Being able to get something that’s not necessarily related to sports is very cool,” she added. “It more so not about my abilities as an athlete, but it shows who I am as a person and my character.”
McGroarty is one of four award winners for the 11th annual Voorhees Community Service Awards Winner Dinner on Thursday, Jan 23, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Lucien’s in Berlin. Tickets for the dinner may be purchased for $80 each or $625 for a table of eight.